Strange, as connected as we all are now, with all our always-on devices attached to our bodies, that professional responsiveness can be so slow. The value of a quick and respectful answer or acknowledgment to a communication is the perception of you as a consummate professional. It makes people say of you, “That person always does what she says she will do.” It heightens their assumption of your capabilities as well.
I admit to having my grandmother’s etiquette, from which I cannot escape, and frankly, don’t want to escape. That means I respond in a respectable time frame with courtesy to all communications, including requests for my time and attention even from students and followers and others who will never be clients, from around the world.
It means if I accept a connection on Linkedin, I look at the profile and send a short message to that person as I connect with him or her.
It means I answer emails from distant colleagues, audience members and others as soon as I can on my priority list.
I am as busy as the rest of my professional cohort. So of course I prioritize: client and family requests come first, and everyone is asked to let me know the urgency of the request, prospects next, then colleagues and other professional contacts after that, and personal correspondence at the end of the day or week, if appropriate.
My clients tell me that their relationships with their virtual assistants, web techies and others often begin well (when they are new clients for these workers) and then the communication deteriorates. This is true even if a good working relationship has been established. I wonder at this (and yes, I have experienced it too, and I make strong relationships) and cannot find an understanding for this behavior, which seems just lax and counterproductive to me. Why ever would a freelancer alienate a respectful paying client?
Perhaps it is in the nature of virtual work, or a general lack of discipline among freelancers.
But it isn’t only these freelancers. To be efficient, I often offer a colleague or a prospect two or three days/times when we can connect (by phone, Skype or face-to-face), and I will sometimes not get an answer for a few days. Meanwhile I am holding open those times for this meeting, because I offered them. This makes a mess of my calendar and other planning.
So, I have started a new way of approaching this:
- If I do not get a response within 30 hours (this is a working day and a morning), I free my schedule and wait to hear back, then let the contact know what times are now available.
- If my virtual helpers do not respond within two days (for a non-urgent request), I ping one more time, and then move on to find someone else to complete my request.
- I keep several sources of support available at all times. I collect them, vet them, and stay in touch with them. It may be a hassle to switch teams, but the work gets done.
- I keep notes on how my various clients like to communicate, and I reach them the way they prefer — by email, by text, by Skype, by phone. One client only responded if I asked a single question with a yes or no answer in the subject line of an email. I learned this quickly and we worked together long distance for many years.
- When my husband’s kids don’t answer email, I ping them on Facebook and get an answer right away.
- Years ago, one of my (really old) elders remarked, “What could anyone possibly talk about for an hour between Boston and Los Angeles?”
The world has changed how it keeps in touch, and we each need to adapt to the all the options, the preferences, the generational differences, and the “not-so-good manners” of those around us. But we can set the boundaries that let us move on with our work and our lives.